PULLMAN – No matter who the Cougars had at quarterback on Saturday the offense was going to be hampered without the services of sure-handed receiver River Cracraft and aggressive running back Gerard Wicks.
But the spots vacated by those players, out for undisclosed reasons, ended up being Washington State’s two most productive on offense.
Tyler Baker, a University of Mississippi transfer who walked-on at WSU, led the team with nine receptions and 89 receiving yards. On a day when dropped passes were a detriment after not being a major issue most of the season, Baker was a steady safety valve for Luke Falk.
“Tyler gives great effort,” Falk said. “He’s always out there competing and he’s really reliable right now so it’s fun playing with him and as you saw he had a great game today and he’ll probably progress.”
The redshirt junior began the year on the scout team and had his first extensive action for the Cougars in last week’s game against Arizona, making four catches for 59 yards and his first career touchdown.
“Baker’s just progressively gotten better because he settled down,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “He’s a guy that tries really hard and sometimes plays too tight, over-tries. … He’s always been a technician, precise about where he goes and how he gets there.”
Theron West entered fall camp as the starter at running back but has seen his playing time dwindle due to the emergence of Jamal Morrow and Wicks. He didn’t play last week against Arizona and entered this weekend having carried the ball only three times since WSU’s game at Nevada on Sept. 5.
Without Wicks, it was likely that West would see a bigger role on Saturday. But he played so well that he finished the day as the Cougars leading rusher, running for 41 yards on nine carries, and making an even bigger impact as a receiver out of the backfield with seven receptions for 91 yards.
“(We) planned to use him and we’re excited about playing him and then as he did well, he was explosive,” Leach said.
Special teams deja vu
Six of Washington State’s seven punts were perfectly fine, but that first one was a doozy. One week after giving up a punt return for a touchdown against Arizona to fall in an early 7-0 hole the Cougars did it a gain, and in much the same manner.
Just like last week the return man, Nelson Agholor, made an initial defender miss and made his way to the left sideline with a wall of blockers keeping any would-be tacklers away.
Washington State has now had six kicks returned for touchdowns against them this season. Three have come on punts, two on regular kickoffs and one after an onside kick.
“We’re improving, we’re improving slightly but we’re not very good at it,” Leach said.
“We’re going to have to work on punting the ball out of bounds, clearly,” he added wryly.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.